Vermont State cannabis regulator seeks information about alleged ties between Russian oligarch and Vermont dispensaries

Now it starts to get serious……

The VT Digger reports

Prompted by a VTDigger inquiry, the Cannabis Control Board chair said the board was asking Massachusetts and Connecticut authorities about published reports that Roman Abramovich had invested in Curaleaf. 

Vermont’s Cannabis Control Board has contacted authorities in Massachusetts and Connecticut to find out what, if anything, they have discovered about an apparent connection between a Russian oligarch and a company that operates two cannabis stores in Vermont.

According to multiple news reports, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich — a subject of international sanctions — invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the U.S. cannabis industry. The chief beneficiary, according to those reports, was Curaleaf, a Massachusetts company that owns Phytocare Vermont, in Bennington, and Vermont Patients Alliance, in Montpelier.

Asked for comment about a report in Vice this week detailing the alleged connection between Abramovich and Curaleaf, Cannabis Control Board chair James Pepper told VTDigger he had been unaware of it but after VTDigger’s inquiry instructed board staff to contact Massachusetts and Connecticut to determine what they had learned.

Pepper said Curaleaf had not mentioned Abramovich when it applied for an integrated license to operate in Vermont’s adult recreational cannabis market.

“Abramovich never appeared in any of their filings,” he said.

Applicants for licenses must disclose owners and principals, according to Pepper, including those with an ownership interest of 10% or greater. Being untruthful with the board would probably result in the revocation of a license, Pepper said.

It’s not clear whether Abramovich still has a stake in Curaleaf. According to the Vice report, he transferred his cannabis investments to family members around the time Russia invaded Ukraine last year. A Curaleaf spokesperson told Barron’s that he “is no longer a creditor to or investor in Curaleaf.”

Vermont Patients Alliance, which already had a license to operate as a medical cannabis dispensary, was awarded an integrated license to operate in the adult retail cannabis market on Nov. 16. Integrated licenses are available to medical dispensaries.

Vermont representatives of Curaleaf did not respond to questions about the purported link.

“I have nothing further to say to you,” said Dylan Boulet, dispensary agent at PhytoCare Vermont, when asked about Abramovich’s connection to Curaleaf. “As far as I’m concerned, this conversation is done.”

Vermont Patients Alliance did not return an email and two voicemails requesting comment.

“We have fully complied with all requirements regarding disclosure of our ownership and financing in the state of Vermont,” Curaleaf spokesperson Stephanie Cunha said in an email to VTDigger, bolding the word “all.” “We have a collaborative and transparent working relationship with VT regulators and have nothing to hide.”

Vice reported that leaked documents revealed that Abramovich, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was one of the biggest financial backers of the U.S. cannabis industry, having invested $130 million and loaned $194 million to cannabis companies in the country between 2016 and 2018.

Abramovich was sanctioned in the United Kingdom, the European Union and Canada after Russia invaded Ukraine, and the U.S. Department of Justice sought a warrant to seize two of his planes, Forensic News reported in December.

Vice reported that the main beneficiary of Abramovich’s investments in the U.S. cannabis industry was Curaleaf, which owns 146 stores in the United States.

According to Vice, Abramovich has a longstanding relationship with Boris Jordan, Curaleaf’s chairman, and Andrey Blokh, Curaleaf’s biggest shareholder and the former president of Sibneft, a Russian oil company.

Independent journalist Grant Smith Ellis first reported in January that the Massachusetts Cannabis Commission was investigating whether Abramovich’s connection to Curaleaf should have been disclosed.

CTNewsJunkie reported in January that Connecticut cannabis regulators were also investigating whether Curaleaf violated that state’s laws when it and its two largest shareholders accepted hundreds of millions of dollars in investments from companies owned by Abramovich. The investments were first revealed in the Forensic News report.


State cannabis regulator seeks information about alleged ties between Russian oligarch and Vermont dispensaries

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